Laura dropped her bag in the hallway and raced up the stairs, glancing at the clock as she bolted past the tiny kitchen. Two minutes. She had two minutes. Briefly, Laura entertained the question of when she’d truly sunk so low, but the thought disappeared as she launched herself towards the cushioned window seat lining the upstairs window.
The window that looked out over her back garden.
And the garden of her neighbour. Her hot neighbour.
Truthfully, she’d been sunk the moment Carmilla Karnstein had moved into the condo next door. The previous tenant had been a wonderful old lady named Elsie who invited Laura over for gingersnaps and told Laura stories about her strangely exciting life. The story of a spunky seventy year old trekking through the Amazon jungle had been one a great hit with her clients as they looked for anything to distract them through the pain of their first tattoo.
But Elsie had moved to Florida to be closer to her grandchildren and Carmilla Karnstein had rolled into her life like a wrecking ball.
Or a paint ball.
One day the condo was empty and the next day Laura walked out her front door to almost be accosted by flying paint.
She’d shrieked and ducked as a deep blue had whammed into the front of her condo, taking a nosedive into the grass over paint on her face.
“Usually I like to wait until the end of the date before girls are falling at my feet,” a voice had drawled.
Laura looked up. Standing over her and highlighted by the late afternoon sun, was the most striking jawline she had ever seen. The kind that sculptures would carve into marble to be preserved for the generations to come. White porcelain skin only adding to the effect.
The stranger turned slightly, bringing the rest of their face of the shadow. Dark hair, small nose, deep eyes so brown they were nearly black. Her fingers twitched as images of those eyes came to mind. How Laura could draw them, the perfect tattoo. She’d fit a galaxy inside them, swirling spirals of stars behind hooded lids.
Then something hard and cold had splattered against her chest. Laura’s lungs burned at the impact, sending her into a fit of coughing as she hauled herself to her feet.
Her white t-shirt was now covered in slowly dripping yellow paint.
“You dropped paint on me?” Laura’s head shot up to meet the stranger.
The girl only smirked, shrugged, and pulled a red balloon from the basket at her feet.
“Seriously,” Laura frowned, “you just drop paint on a total stranger and then have nothing to say for yourself. No apologies. No nothing?”
The girl didn’t even look at her, focusing on the paint covered canvas a few feet away, “You don’t apologize for things you do intentionally, cutie.” She let the red balloon go and splattered across the upper corner of the canvas, covering not only the target but also the house behind it with red paint.
Laura took a step forward, eyes narrowed, “And the house. You’re just throwing paint at the house. My half of the building. I’m not cleaning that up. That’s your responsibility. And this has to violate our rental agreement somehow. You couldn’t just do this somewhere else?”
The girl hefted another balloon, “But the best light’s here, cupcake.”
“Lau-ra,” Laura dragged out her name, “My name is Lau-ra.”
“Congratulations, cupcake.” the girl said, “you want an award?”
Laura narrowed her eyes, “What I want is an apology for hitting me with paint and for coating the house in paint and a promise to clean it all up.”
“Well now, you are the demanding sort, aren’t you cutie?” She winked, “I like that in a girl.”
“Oh no you don’t,” Laura took a step back, “no way. You don’t get to walk in here and suddenly be all flirty with your slightly rude comments and your impeccable jawline. I don’t know what girls you normally deal with but that’s so not going to work on me. I have standards. I may be hella gay but that doesn’t mean I’m falling over backwards for every rude, broody artist type who winks at me like the self-absorbed,”
She gasped when another splat hit her chest. A red splash of paint joining the yellow. Laura fought to swallow her anger, fist clenching at her sides.
“That’s bunched up face you make when you get angry is adorable, buttercup,” Laura heard the drawl, “and I’d love to stay and play but today’s art is done and my jawline and I are just covered in paint so we have to go clean ourselves up.”
“Why you raging,” Laura stuttered, “bad person.”
The girl laughed and the rational part of Laura’s brain noted that it was the first genuine sound she’d heard from the girl .
“Better leave the nicknames to me, sweetie,” the girl had picked up her basket and sashayed up her front steps. She paused just before entering the door, “You’d better just stick to calling me Carmilla.”
Then she’d disappeared.
Laura had seethed for a moment before trudging back to her own condo to change her shirt. Muttering to herself as climbed the stairs, Laura had stomped into her upstairs bedroom and flung the shirt into the laundry basket. Then she’d stepped by the window on her way to her dresser.
And that was the first time she realized the view she had of her neighbour’s garden.
The squeek of a back door jolted Laura from the memory and straight to the deliciousness that was the present. Laura craned her neck, hands rubbing the legs of her jeans. Almost bouncing in place.
There it was. She felt the blood rush to her cheeks as her body stilled at the sight. But there was no way she was moving anywhere.
Carmilla stood in the middle of the garden, her limbs covered in paint of varying colours, wearing nothing but a bikini.
It was like staring at a work of perfect art and Laura’s fingers itched to draw, picking up the pencil and paper that she left there for that reason. The pencil certainly wasn’t the tattoo ink she was used to, but it was the start of every project.
Laura started sketching, watching as Carmilla picked up a garden hose and began spraying some tomatoes. She drew the fine lines of her face, careful to catch the way the sun and shadows danced across Carmilla’s cheekbones. Carmilla bent over to reach under a low bush and Laura scrambled to draw the curve of butt, the bikini just tight enough to dance between modesty and scandalous.
“So Laura, you ever going to tell us why you need afternoon’s off on Tuesdays and Thursdays?” Laf said as they finished ringing up a customer. Trying to get him to pay instead of just taking selfies of his new tattoo.
Laura’s eyes widened, “Personal reasons.”
“Oh,” Laf raised their eyebrows like they didn’t belive a word of it, “How about your hot neighbour? She coming back around? Finally get that tattoo?”
Laura shook her head. Carmilla had shown up once a few weeks back and talked about getting a tattoo but when Laura had asked her what she wanted, Carmilla had refused to give her a straight answer.
Laura turned back to her station, running a hand over her tools, “I have anyone else tonight?”
Laf raised an eyebrow at her lack of an answer but shook their head, “I’ve got that giant anglerfish tattoo waiting in the back and you’ve got the walk-ins.”
“On a Friday night,” Laura huffed, “I think you mean, drunk duty.”
The bell above the door chimed lightly and Laf grinned and disappeared into the back, “Have fun.”
Laura shook her head and made her way to the front desk, “Hi! How can I help -” She drew up short when she saw who was leaning on the desk, “Carmilla.”
The brunette grinned at her, “Hiya cupcake. Decided to finally get that tattoo.”
“Did you now?” Laura took a step forward, biting her lip to keep her smile inside. Carmilla was swaying on her feet and her cheeks were flushed.
“Mmmmhmmm,” Carmilla said, taking a step forward, tripping, and catching herself on the counter, “I know exactly what I wanna get. It’s going to be beautiful.”
Laura nodded, leaning on the side of the counter, “I thought you had to think about it.”
“Pfffffft,” Carmilla stuck her tongue when she made the sound and Laura didn’t even try not to find it adorable, “I always knew what I wanted. I just said that cause I’m cool and mysterious.” She looked over a Laura, “you think I’m cool and mysterious right?”
“Well,” Laura said, “I definitely think you’re drunk.”
Carmilla’s shrug went all the way to her ears, “Doesn’t mean I don’t know what I want. I want the most beautiful thing.” Her eyes were wide as she looked at Laura, “and I don’t want anyone but you to do it.”
A loud yelp came from the backroom where Laf was working. The sound startled Carmilla and she stumbled slightly backwards. Laura’s eyes widened as she picture Carmilla faceplanting into the coffee table. She reached out and grabbed her drunk neighbour. Carmilla came willing, grabbing onto Laura’s shoulders for support.
From this distance Laura could easily smell the whiskey on Carmilla’s breath.
“What was that?” Carmilla asked, eyes roaming the room.
Laura eased herself back against the counter, surprised when Carmilla followed, “Laf’s putting a giant anglerfish on a hairy man’s back.”
Carmilla’s head whipped back to look at her, “I don’t want that.” Carmilla’s eyes were wide with horror, “Do I have to get that? I don’t want one. Either. Hairy man. Angerlerfish. Back. All bad. Very bad. No. I don’t have to get that do I?”
Carmilla was practically vibrating as her drunk mind got herself more and more worked up. Laura raised a hand and lifted it to Carmilla’s cheek. The action instantly calmed Carmilla and Laura’s breath caught when Carmilla nuzzled into her palm.
“You don’t have to get anything you don’t want, Carm,” Laura said.
“thank you,” Carmilla’s voice was small and Laura had to wonder where this fragility had come from. Then Carmilla whispered, “the fish is stuck anyway.”
The smile finally cracked across Laura’s face, “I will keep that in mind you silly drunk.”
Carmilla beamed at her, “I am silly. You make me silly.”
“I make you silly?” Laura laughed, “what happened to broody, dark Carmilla Karnstein?”
Carmilla’s face turned serious, “sunshine.”
“I hate to tell you Carm,” Laura ran her hands absently up and down Carmlla’s arms, “but I’m not responsible for the sunshine.”
“yes, you are,” Carmilla said immediately, “sometimes you’re so sunshiny that I think you accidently ate some and now it’s trying to escape and can’t get out and that’s scary and silly but it feels true and that’s scary because I don’t usually like sunshine but I go into the sunshine because it makes you smile and then I get to see more sunshine. And I think that maybe i like the sunshine.”
She looked at Laura like she was waiting for Laura to say something back. Laura racked her brain, trying to make sense of Carmilla’s words and coming up empty.
As she stared at Carmilla, Laura was once again struck by the woman in front of her. In the garden it was easy to see her as that annoying neighbour with the nice set of legs and perfect face. But here. Here was something entirely different. This was something a little more raw and a little less guarded. Laura was struck again by her initial desire to draw the depths of Carmilla’s eyes as infinite galaxies.
She came back to reality when Carmilla leaned closer, her breath ghosting across Laura’s lips, “Wanna know a secret?”
Laura gulped and nodded. The action almost sending her lips skittering across Carmilla’s.
“I hate gardening!” Carmilla cried, flinging her arms upward and spinning backwards.
The break in tension had Laura giggling, “Carm, all you seem to do is paint and garden. How can you hate gardening?”
Carmilla thought about it, her face pulled into a concentrated frown. Then she brightened and looked at Laura, “Can I get my tattoo now?”
Laura rolled her eyes, “I don’t give tattoos to drunk people.”
“But it haaaaaaas to be you!” Carmilla pranced back over to Laura and flung her arms around her. Suddenly there was a deep voice husking across Laura’s ear, “I don’t want anyone else touching my butt.” Carmilla breathed.
Laura choked slightly, her arms involuntarily coming around to circle Carmilla’s lower back as flashes of Carmilla’s bikini clad bottom danced through her head.
“Carmilla,” she stuttered, “rules are rules. Come back when you’re sober and we’ll talk.”
Carmilla pulled back slightly, a wicked smile on her face, “but don’t you want to know what I want you to put on my butt?”
Laura wondered when exactly cute drunk Carmilla had transitioned to flirty drunk Carmilla. Then Carmilla tucked herself down and nuzzled into Laura’s neck, almost purring as she brought them flush against each other.
Maybe cute Carmilla was flirty Carmilla.
Laura fought her breathing, “Alright, what tattoo were you hoping to get?”
“Your name,” Carmilla whispered, her nose cool against Laura’s neck.
The words stopped Laura from breathing at all. Her hands clenching tighter at Carmilla’s waist.
“Cause I was trying to think,” Carmilla kept speaking, “about what I’d want to be marked by if I was going to be marked up permanently. It would have to be something really beautiful. Only the most beautiful.” Now Carmilla was resting her entire weight on Laura, pressing small kisses down her neck, “ And all I could think about was sunshine. And last time I came by to tell you that but I got to scared because sunshine is hard but then tonight I wasn’t so scared. So I had to come tell you that I want you to put your name on my ass so that it’ll be there forever. ”
Laura fought the moan as Carmilla dragged her nose up Laura’s neck and along her jawbone to nibble by her ear.
She forced out the words, “You’re drunk.”
“I still know what I want,” Carmilla said and Laura’s legged almost buckled as Carmilla’s hands swooped lightly under her shirt.
With a deep breath, Laura took a step back. Detaching herself from Carmilla, who looked at her with wide eyes.
“You don’t even know my name.” Laura said.
Carmilla frowned, “sure I do.”
“What is it?” Laura looked at the drunk girl, folding her arms to keep her hands from twitching.
Carmilla grinned, “Cupcake!”
Laura shook her head.
Carmilla tried again, “Cutie!”
And again, “Sunshine!”
And again, “Buttercup!”
Carmilla scrunched her eyes tightly together, “Creampuff?” She said hopefully.
Laura laughed, “Go home Carmilla. Or if you wait, twenty minutes you can drive back with me.”
“What if I remember you name?” Carmilla asked, hunched forward and tapping her forehead with an intense thinking face.
Laura shook her head and rolled her eyes, “If you’re sober and remember my name then we can talk about me putting my name on your rear.”
Before she could react, Carmilla dashed forward and kissed her on the nose. Carmilla beamed at her and gave a small cheer, “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” Then she ran out.
It was Tuesday. 2:05pm and Laura was definitely not looking out her window. That’s not saying she didn’t want to but she was determined not to.
If only staring at her bedroom wall wasn’t so boring.
Laura swore that she was only getting up to go to the bathroom and that the glance out of her window was accidental.
What she saw quickly turned that glance into a stare.
Laura bolted forward, stomping down the stairs and bursting into her backyard. She flung herself through the hedge separating her yard from Carmilla’s.
“What did you do?” she shouted as she cleared the evergreen branches, “That’s crazy. I never should have let you leave the shop in that state. I’m so sorry.”
Carmilla didn’t even seem surprised to see her. Her smirk was already well in place, “Well, cupcake, I had to get you down from that window somehow. A girl can only pretend to know how to garden for so long.”
“I,” Laura frowned, “wait, what?”
“Cupcake,” Carmilla’s smile turned a little more genuine, “You’ve spent weeks watching me? You really think I know anything about gardening.” She gestured behind her to a sad looking bush, “I’m pretty sure I completely overwatered half this garden trying to entice you down here.”
Laura’s tongue felt huge in her mouth, “You knew I was up there?”
“It’s not a one way mirror?” Carmilla said, “And I’m not about to miss the gorgeous ball of sunshine staring down at me.”
“But,” Laura’s mind whipped back to the more relevant subject, “you couldn’t just knock on my door? You had to get a tattoo! Carmilla, that’s what we call, over the top insane.”
The bikini clad brunette just smirked at her and turned.
Something hot curled deep in Laura’s stomach at the sight. Carmilla’s butt was covered in a new high-cut bathing suit, with the bottom of her buttcheek lightly hanging out of the fabric. Scrawled across the left cheek, dark black across the white skin, was the word ‘Laura’.
“I believe,” Carmilla said, “we had a deal if I could remember your name?” Her eyes seemed to darken as they held Laura’s looking at her over her shoulder.
“Well,” Laura swallowed, “you appear to already have my name on you so I’m not sure what else I could offer.”
Carmilla spun around, stepping into Laura’s space, “I could think of a few things.”
Laura’s fingers twitched at the closeness, wanting to reach out and touch all that perfect skin. Skin with her name on it. She looked up at Carmilla, surprised to find the taller woman hesitating, hovering just above her face.
“Laura,” her name seemed to sing on Carmilla’s tongue.
So Laura moved forward, pressing her lips to Carmilla’s and letting her hands roam the skin she’d drawn a hundred times. Carmilla moaned into her mouth, lightly biting her lip, and the image of her name on Carmilla flashed through Laura’s mind again. WIth a feather touch, she dragged her hands down Carmilla’s side and cupped her butt right over her name.
Then she frowned, breaking the kiss and moving slightly backwards.
Carmilla smiled down at her, quirking an eyebrow.
Laura looked down at the black smear on her sweaty hand, “This is permanent marker!”